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The heart of their civilization lay between the highlands of Guatemala and the plains of the Yucatan, much of it a vast region of dense jungle. They were renowned for their monumental architecture.Pyramids and temples towered over plazas and ball courts, where kings ascended to the throne and warrior athletes competed for their lives.(Program not available for streaming.) The ancient Maya civilization of Central America left behind an intricate and mysterious hieroglyphic script, carved on monuments, painted on pottery, and drawn in handmade bark-paper books.For centuries, scholars considered it too complex ever to understand—until recently, when an ingenious series of breakthroughs finally cracked the code and unleashed a torrent of new insights into the Mayas' turbulent past.One blaze was ignited by Diego de Landa, a zealous friar, bent on destroying one of the most original writing systems ever invented, Maya hieroglyphics.Landa's mission was to convert the Maya to Catholicism in the Yucatan peninsula.He had gone into all the sites, fully equipped with large format glass-plate negatives—an immense effort, these caravans of equipment.You see these lovely photographs with the entire great plaza cleared. He had to set a lot of people to work, clearing these areas, so that he could get decent photographs.

Imagine explorers arriving to find our cities deserted; our books have perished in some unknown catastrophe; all that is left to speak for us are the written words we have carved in stone.

Everything would change in the 1880s, when Alfred Maudslay arrived with a glass-plate camera.

Maudslay was taking full advantage of the new developments in photography.

They seek guidance about favorable days for planting and harvesting, business and travel, courtship and marriage.

Although they hold onto their heritage, the Maya have been a people cut off from the written words of their ancestors.

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